Albright: Wonder Woman

Oct 17, 2016

The United Nations seems to have decided that there are no human women qualified to be new honorary ambassador for women and girls, so they’ve chosen… Wonder Woman.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about this cultural icon, with her nearly naked va-va-voom body. True, as played by Lynda Carter in the mid-1970s TV series, Wonder Woman accomplished a lot in a day, vanquishing evil-doers. But she also set the bar way too high for us female baby boomers, who were just trying to juggle jobs and marriages and kids and chores. I really couldn’t relate to a warrior princess who obviously had a lot of time, when not saving the world, to pump iron at the gym.

She was supposedly sired by Zeus — a not very loving father who abandoned her, apparently, to be expertly raised by her mother and aunts. That scenario might help other little girls in those circumstances feel heroic. But Wonder Woman’s real story is less wholesome. The most popular female comic-book superhero of all time was created by the American psychologist, William Moulton Marston, with his wife, Elizabeth Marston. But here’s the twist. According to Smithsonian Magazine, in 1925 Marston, a professor at Tufts, fell in love with his student, Olive Byrne, who was the muse for Wonder Woman. He gave his wife, Elizabeth, an ultimatum: either Byrne could live with them, or he would leave Elizabeth. Byrne moved in and the threesome told people she was Marston’s widowed sister-in-law.

Does any of this explain why Wonder Woman looks like an oversexed Barbie doll on steroids? It’s always seemed odd to me that superheroes need to look like body builders. If they really do have supernatural skills — flying, for example, and mind-reading — why do they need so many muscles?

My favorite show in the 70’s wasn’t Wonder Woman. It was Bewitched, about a housewife named Samantha who solved daunting problems just by wiggling her nose. Samantha lived with a man, and in a world, that wanted her to avoid using her magic - to pretend she was just like everyone else. That was a maddening choice a lot of women in her day faced - and still face today. But Samantha rebelled, usually to help less intelligent people out of jams. Sadly, the star who created that role, Elizabeth Montgomery, is no longer alive. But her practical, friendly witch lives on in cartoons, and if the UN had asked me, I would have nominated Sam.